(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Zechariah. Part 17) Lecture One Hundred and Fiftieth. Zechariah 8:14,15 14 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the LORD of hosts, and I repented not: 15 So again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not. The Prophet confirms the truth in the preceding verse, when he said that there would be a wholly different lot to the Jews, as they would in every way be blessed. He shows the cause of the change; for God would begin to favour them, who had been before displeased with them. We indeed know that the Holy Spirit everywhere calls men before God's tribunal, that they may know that no adversity happens to them, except through their sins. So also in this place Zechariah reminds us, that God had been angry with the Jews, because they had provoked his wrath. But now a promise is added, that God had turned; not that he had changed his mind, but he meant to show that he was pacified. We indeed know that we are to judge of God's love or hatred to us by outward things; for when God treats us severely, manifest tokens of his wrath appear; but when he deals kindly with us, then the fruit of reconciliation seems evident. According to this view does he now say, that God was of another mind than formerly towards the Jews; for he designed to show them kindness, having before sharply and severely chastised them. But we must more particularly consider each part. He says, that as God had previously resolved to punish the Jews, he was now inclined to show mercy, and that they would find him as it were changed and different from what he had been. These verses, as I have said, are explanatory; for the Prophet had briefly promised that the Jews would be a remarkable example of being a blessed people, but he now shows why God had previously inflicted on them so many evils and calamities, even because their fathers had provoked his wrath. And when he says that he had visited them on account of the crimes or sins of their fathers, we must understand this of the body of the people. Superfluous then is the question which some interpreters moot, Whether God punished the children for the sins of their fathers, when yet he declares in another place, that the soul that sins shall die: for in this place the Prophet does not distinguish the fathers from the children, but intimates that God had not been propitious to the Jews, because they had before greatly provoked his wrath. There is yet no doubt, but that every one justly suffered the punishment of his iniquity. The import of the whole is, that the Jews gained nothing by evasion, for God had not without reason visited them, but had rendered a just reward for their sins. This is one thing. What he adds, that God repented not for being thus angry, means the same as though he had said, that the Jews through their perverseness had only rendered God's rigour inflexible. Zechariah then reminds us, that when men cease not to add evils to evils, and obstinately rush on as though they would make war with God, he then becomes as it were obstinate too, and according to what is said in the eighteenth Psalm, "deals perversely with the perverse." The reason then why God declares that he had been implacable to his people, is, because the wickedness of those whom he had spared and long tolerated was become unhealable; for when he saw that they were wholly perverse, he armed himself for vengeance. And hence we may gather a general truth,--that God cannot be intreated by us, except when we begin to repent; not that our repentance anticipates God's mercy, for the question here is not, what man of himself and of his own inclination can do; as the object of Zechariah is only to teach us, that when God designs to forgive us, he changes our hearts and turns us to obedience by his Spirit; for when he leaves us in our hardness, we must necessarily be ever afflicted by his hand until we at last perish. We must at the same time notice what I have also referred to,-- that God here closes the mouths of the Jews, that they might not murmur against his severity, as though he had dealt cruelly with them. He then shows that these punishments were just which the Jews had endured; for it had not been for one day only, but for a continued succession of time, that the fathers had excited his wrath. The reason why he speaks of the fathers rather than of themselves is, because they had for a long series of years hardened themselves in their wickedness, and corruption had become in them as it were hereditary. He now says that he had turned; not that he was of another mind, as we have already said, but this is to be understood of what the people experienced; for God seemed to be in a manner different, when he became kind to them and showed them favour, having before manifested many tokens of vengeance. Now at the end of the verse the Prophet reminds us of the application of his doctrine, even to encourage the Jews, that they might go on with alacrity in the work of building the temple. But we have said that we ought to be armed with God's promises, so that we may with courageous hearts follow wherever he may call us; for we shall all presently faint except we find that the hand of God is present with us. Since then we are by nature slothful and tender, and since inconstancy often creeps in, this is our only remedy, - that when we seek to go on in the course of our calling to the end, we know that God will be ever a help to us; and this is what the Prophet now teaches us. He then applies what he had before promised to its legitimate purpose, - to encourage the Jews to lay aside their fear, courageously to undertake their work, and to expect what was not yet evident, even a complete restoration. It follows - Zechariah 8:16,17 16 These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgement of truth and peace in your gates: 17 And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD. Zechariah exhorts them here to true repentance, by showing that more things were to be hoped for than what they saw with their eyes; and at the same time he shows that it was not enough for them assiduously to build the city and the temple; but he requires other things, even that they should observe integrity and justice towards one another. We indeed know that the Jews were so given to their own ceremonies, that they thought that holiness existed in them: and this error Zechariah had before condemned, and now he inculcates the same truth, - that if they wished to have God propitious to them, and also wished to enjoy continually that goodness which they had already tasted, they were to strive to secure it not only by sacrifices and other ceremonies, but especially by attention to justice and equity. But the Prophet does not here mention every part of an upright life, but only refers to some things. This mode of speaking is quite common, as we have already often noticed. The Prophet then states a part for the whole; but still he includes generally the whole of the second table, when he says that these things were to be observed; even that they should speak the truth; that is, deal faithfully with one another, abstain from every falsehood and deceit, and from every kind of craftiness, - and also that they should execute justice in their gates. And because he names neighbours here, it would be very absurd for anyone hence to conclude, that it is lawful to defraud strangers, or those with whom we have no near connection: but the Prophet by this term meant only to set forth the atrocious conduct of the Jews, who spared not even their friends and their brethren. Though then it is a wicked thing to deceive any one, even the farthest from us, it is yet a greater crime when one lies in wait for his near neighbour and brother: and we know that this mode of speaking occurs everywhere in the law; for God, in order to restrain us from evil deeds, has set before us that kind of sin which we are constrained by the impulse of nature to detest. Thus he speaks of secret hatred as being murder. Then the Prophet in this place meant more sharply to reprove the Jews, because such barbarity had prevailed among them, that no one regarded his neighbour, but raged as it were against his own bowels. As to the words, truth and the judgement of peace, he intimates by them, that not only individuals were privately given to evil deeds, but that also the court of justice was full of frauds and wrong acts, while it ought to have been the sanctuary of justice. Though many may be perversely wicked among the people, yet their audacity and wickedness are always restrained, when the laws are put in force, and incorrupt judges rule. But the Prophet shows that the judges had become like robbers, for there was no integrity in the gates. He mentions truth first, for the judges craftily perverted all truth by misrepresentations, as it is commonly the case. For even the worst of men do not openly say that they approve of a wicked deed; but they find out disguises by which they cover their own baseness, and that of those who do wrong, whom they favour, when bribed with money. It is then necessary that truth should have the first place in courts of justice. By the judgement of peace he understands, when his own is given to every one. Some think that what is right is called the judgement of peace, because when mercenary judges condemn and oppress the innocent, and for gain's sake patronise what is wrong, many tumults often arise, and then open war ensues: but as the word peace has a wide meaning in Hebrew, we may take the judgement of peace as meaning only a calm and a rightly formed judgement. The Jews, we know, administered justice in the gates. He afterwards adds, And think not evil every one against his friend. Here the Prophet not only condemns open wrongs, but also the hidden purposes of evil. We hence learn, that the law was not only given to restrain men as it were by a bridle, and that it not only contains a rule of life as to outward duties, but that it also rules their hearts before God and angels. The law is indeed really spiritual; and extremely gross and foolish are they who think that they satisfy the law of Moses, when they abstain from murder and theft and other evil deeds; for we see that the Prophets everywhere required a right feeling in the hearts as Zechariah does in this place, who reminds the Jews, that they were not to devise evil against their friends, no, not in their hearts. He might have omitted the last words; but he meant to condemn those frauds which were wont to be covered by many and various disguises. Though then men may not bring forth their wickedness, yet Zechariah shows that God will punish it; for whatever dwells within, however concealed it may be from the eyes of men, however hidden it may be in the depth of the heart, it must yet come to an account before God. He adds another kind of evil, even perjury, And love not the oath of falsehood. He might have said, swear not to the injury of thy neighbour; but there is to be observed here a contrast between the perverted love of men and the hatred of God. As then God hates a false oath as all other frauds and falsehoods, so he forbids us to desire it: for if we wish to please God, we must see what he requires from us, inasmuch as we designedly provoke his wrath when we desire or covet what he declares that he hates. In a word, Zechariah shows that God would be propitious and kind to the Jews, provided they truly and from the heart repented, and attended to what was right and just - not only to build the temple, to offer sacrifices, and to observe other rites, but also to form their life according to what integrity required; to labour not only by external acts to discharge their duties towards their neighbours; but also to cleanse their hearts from all hatred, all cruelty, and all depraved affections. It now follows - Zechariah 8:18,19 18 And the word of the LORD of hosts came unto me, saying, 19 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace. He confirms the same truth, that such would be the restoration of the Church that all the memory of their sorrows would be obliterated. We have already said, that some fasts were observed by the Jews after the destruction of their city. Before two only were mentioned, but now the Prophet names four. In the fourth month the city was taken, and in the fifth the temple was destroyed and burnt down; in the seventh was Gedaliah slain, who had remained with the residue of the people who had been gathered by him; and the fast of the tenth month, as some think, was appointed when the city was besieged. If so, the fast of the tenth month preceded the rest, then followed the fast of the fourth month, in the third place the fast of the fifth month, and, lastly, the fast of the seventh month, on account of the death of Gedaliah. These then were tokens of mourning to the time of the restoration; for when the city was besieged, God raised up, as it were, a sign of dreadful vengeance; and when Nebuchadnezzar broke through the wall of the city, it was then openly forsaken by God; after the burning of the temple there remained no hope, except that some of the common people continued in the land under the protection of Gedaliah. The root, as it were, of the people was cut off, but some thin fibres were remaining; and when even these were torn asunder, when all who could be found were led into exile, the favour of God had wholly disappeared as to the outward appearance. It behaved then the Jews to be in mourning and humiliation, that they might seek pardon from God. We shall not then say, that these fasts were without reason, and foolishly appointed by them, for they were at liberty to testify their sorrow; nay, it was an act of piety humbly in their guilt to deprecate the wrath of the celestial Judge, when they perceived that he was displeased with them. But God now promises joy, which was to extinguish all sorrow, as the rising of the sun drives away all the darkness of the night. But the Prophet seems to allude to what he had before taught when he indirectly taunted the Jews, because they were too anxious about keeping fasts, while they neglected the main things. But the simple meaning is, that if the Jews really repented and sincerely sought to return to God's favour, there would be an end to all their miseries, so that there would be no need of fasting. We must also remember that the design of fasting is this, that those who have sinned may humble themselves before God, and go as suppliants before his throne, that they may confess their sins and condemn themselves. Fasting then is, as it were, the habit of criminals when they desire to obtain pardon from God; for Christ says, that there is no fasting at marriages and during festal days. (Matt. 9: 15.) We then see that there is here promised a restoration which was to put an end to every former cause of sorrow among the people; not that these fasts of themselves displeased God, for they were appointed, as we have said, for a good purpose - that the people might thus exercise themselves in acts of piety, and also stimulate and support their hope till the time of their deliverance; but Zechariah pursues what he had begun - that God was now plainly reconciled, for he favoured his people, and proved this by the blessings he bestowed. With regard to festal days, we know that among other things they are expressly mentioned by Moses, "Thou shalt rejoice before thy God." (Deut. 12: 18.) When therefore the Jews celebrated their festal meetings, it was the same as though they stood before God, and were thus fully persuaded that they were in his presence. Forasmuch then as God thus designed to exhilarate his people by festivals, the Prophet does not without reason say, that the fasts, which had been signs of mourning, would be turned into joy and into festal days. Moreover, the Prophet thus speaks, because the observance of the law, which prevailed while the people were in a state of security, had been interrupted in their exile - as though he had said, "As food expelled you to a foreign land, and made you while exiles from your country to grieve and mourn, so now being restored you shall have joy, and religiously keep your festal days." And thus he indirectly reproves the Jews for having deprived themselves of their festal days, in which the law invited them to rejoice, for they had profaned them. God would not have suffered to be discontinued what he had commanded, had not religion been corrupted; for on this account it was that things changed for the worse, and that sorrow succeeded, which is here designated by fastings. At length he concludes by saying, Love ye then truth and peace. By truth he means integrity, as we have said before; and Zechariah includes in this word the whole of what is just and right: for when our hearts are cleansed, then the rule of justice and equity is observed. When then we deal sincerely with our neighbours, all the duties of love freely flow from within as from a fountain. As to the word peace, it may be explained in two ways: either as in the former instance when he mentioned the judgement of peace in the sense of judgement rightly formed, and thus to love peace is to love good order; or it may be taken for God's blessing, as though the Prophet said, "If ye wish to be in a good and prosperous state, observe integrity towards one another; for God will ever be present by his blessing, provided ye be sincere and faithful. Ye have in a manner sought a curse for yourselves, and dried up as it were the fountain of God's blessings by your wickedness and your frauds. If then truth reign among you, all felicity shall accompany it; for the Lord will bless you." I shall not proceed farther now. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as thou invites us so kindly and graciously to thyself, we may not be refractory, but with every evil affection subdued, offer ourselves to thy service; and since thou requires nothing else from us but to observe what is right towards one another, - O grant that we may be mindful of that brotherhood which thine only-begotten Son has consecrated by his own blood, and call on thee as our Father, and prove by the whole of our conduct that we are thy children; and may every one of us so labour for one another, that being united in heart and affection, we may with one consent aspire after that blessed life, where we shall enjoy that inheritance which has been prepared and obtained by the blood of thy Son, and through him laid up for us in heaven. - Amen. (Calvin... on Zechariah) Continued in Part 18... ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvzec-17.txt .